August, 2011: An poshi teli yeli wan poshi." (Food lasts till forests last.) – Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani (RA), 14th Century Sufi Mystic from Kashmir
The picturesque state of Jammu and Kashmir now has to fight a new war. The Kishenganga Dam Project proposed on the Kishenganga or Neelum river that flows through central Jammu and Kashmir and merges with the Jhelum, threatens to drown prime agricultural land and wildlife areas.
According to the Kashmir Environmental Watch Association (KEWA), "The Kishenganga Group of Contractors has been formed to build a 330 megawatt hydro-electric project estimated to cost $500 million. The group consists of a Swedish consortium, Skanska International, and domestic companies, including Power Development Corporation. The project is to construct a 103 m. high dam on the Kishenganga river in the Gurez Valley, which will inundate the entire valley, destroying its ecology and driving out more than 25,000 Dard Shin people, a unique and virtually unstudied culture, from their ancient homeland."
Damming will result in the creation of a large reservoir from which a channel and a 27 km. tunnel will be dug south through the North Kashmir mountain range. This will allow the Kishenganga waters to be diverted to the Wular Lake at Bandipur where a hydro-electric project will be built at the Wular barrage.
The pristine high alpine meadows of the Gurez Valley and old growth forests above it have enjoyed protection due to their remoteness. The Valley is home to varied wildlife including the snow leopard, hangul deer, musk deer, barking deer, black bear, markhor, ibex, marmot and more. The dam will inundate the valley and alter the ecology of the hillsides, meadows and forests forever. The dam in the Kashmir Himalayan range also poses the risk of increasing seismic activity and therefore large-scale earthquakes.
The Kishenganga river below the dam will be reduced to a mere trickle, affecting the green Neelum Valley. Diverting the water will also impact the level of the Wular Lake and therefore its ecology. Some 25 villages, six summer high altitude habitats of shepherds, much cultivatable land and eight camping sites will be drowned by the dam project. The cost – both for people and the environment – is far too high. The people living in the Gurez Valley have not been consulted before the government struck a deal with Skanska International and other contractors. Shouldn't the Dard Shin people who will lose their land be a part of the decision-making process? The Dard Shins have been given the option of either leaving on their own or through a government plan that will move them to concrete housing projects in urban areas. Seven villages that have already been issued notices are Badwan, Wampora, Khundeyal, Fakirpora, Dawar (the ancient and present capital of Gurez), Mastan Khopri and Markot.
Since the project is still in its early stages, we can still save the Gurez Valley. Write to the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and the new Minister of Enviroment and Forests, stating the following points.
The Kishenganga Dam project will destroy the biodiversity-rich meadows and forests of the Gurez Valley and result in the displacement of thousands of indigenous Dard Shins.
Jammu and Kashmir has always been the hallmark of natural beauty. Let us keep it pristine and free of such short-sighted development projects which will affect the entire Himalayan region.
Please stop the Kishenganga Dam project and instead declare the Gurez Valley as an environmentally and culturally protected valley.
Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir
Civil Sectt., Jammu-Tavi – 180 001.
Tel.: +0191 2546466 (Jammu),
Tel.: +0191 2545529 (Srinagar)
Ministry of Environment and Forests
CGO Complex, Lodhi Road,
New Delhi – 110 003.
Tel.: +91-11- 24360721.
More information can be found at www.kewa.org/ or write to Hilal Ahmad